Eighth graders fair well in basic skills test

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 03/25/97.

Im not surprised the math scores were down, Deb Gillman, middle school principal, said of the basic skills test results. The tests were given three months earlier than last year plus the passing percentage was changed from 70 to 75 percent.

One hundred and ten Paynesville Area Middle School eighth graders took the basic skills tests in January which is required to graduate under the new graduation standards guidelines.

Sixty percent of the Paynesville eighth graders passed the reading test and 74 percent the math test. If the students had been graded on the same 70 percent level as last years eighth graders, the students would have had 68 percent in reading and 82 percent passing in math.

Gillman feels the number passing will be lower next year as the passing grade is being upped to 80 percent and the initial testing date is scheduled for December. The testing dates are not consistent and I feel the timing is a factor, Gillman added.

Gillman reminded people reviewing the test scores that the eighth graders were being tested on minimum adult skill level, not eighth grade skill level.

The math test covered eight different areas while the reading test only two. In math the students are tested on problem solving; whole numbers and fractions; percentages and ratios; number sense; estimations; measurements; tables and graphs; chance and date; and shape and space. In reading they are tested on literal and inferential levels. Inferential consists of reading between the lines to get the meaning of stories, Gillman added.

Our reading scores were significantly higher because of two factors, Gillman said. We made an effort on reading comprehension this year, focusing on nonfiction material. Secondly, this is the first class to use the companion reading program. She added the tests change each year so students never get the same test from one year to the next.

At the State Capitol, DFLers urged the public to keep the scores in perspective. Rep. Becky Kelso, DFL-Shakopee, said that eighth graders can continue to take the test until theyre seniors, improving their odds of ultimately passing.

Sara Smith, St. Cloud assistant schools superintendent, likens the basic skills test to a driving test...people can retake it until they pass. Of those who failed, some will just need more time to mature in their skills and they will do fine on the tests, she added.

Paynesville had 15 ninth grade students retake the math test this year and 55 students retake the reading test. The ninth graders taking the test stay at the same passing level as their classmates, 70 percent. Only five passed the math test and 32 the reading test. It was encouraging to see that of those passing the reading test, 15 were in the 80 to 100 percent scoring range, Danith Clausen, curriculum coordinator, said.

I was pleased with the results of last years test results and this years. We tested 100 percent of the class. We did not exempt the special needs students from the test. We did however, give them some special accommendations by placing them in smaller groups and changing the setting. For example, in the math tests, the monitor read them the questions. This way we knew they didnt fail because of their reading skills, Clausen added.

Clausen explained the students are not required to take the test until 10th grade. The advantage to taking the test at eighth grade is the students have more opportunities to focus on their problem areas and to retake the test, she added.
Clausen said she questioned the ninth graders about the test afterward and they felt this years reading test was easier than last year and the math test was harder. I think this reflects they are using better test strategy. In monitoring the tests, I could see that last year many of the students read the questions prior to reading the article. This year they read the articles then looked at the questions, she said.

I think the test scores reflect that smaller districts are doing a better job of teaching the basics, that bigger isnt always better, Clausen said. Smaller schools have the opportunity to tend to the needs of the students more and the students are less apt to fall through the cracks as the teachers know the students better and can pay them more attention.

Governor Arne Carlson said the red flag is waving. The bottom line is that roughly 30 percent of our kids statewide will not graduate, he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

If these scores do not turn around quickly, huge numbers of kids will not graduate four years from now, Bob Wedl, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning, said of the state scores.

Wedl said the graduation rule already has set off monumental change in Minnesota schools. Next year he feels it could be even more difficult to pass the tests. Under a plan approved by the State Board of Education, the passing standards will rise to 80 percent. But Wedl intends to recommend to the board that the standard be maintained at 75 percent instead.

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